Wednesday, April 18, 2007

"A very risky prospect"

So... where do you suppose Russia plans to "test-drive" its prototype floating nuclear power plant that was the subject of my post yesterday?

Thanks to my friend and colleague Steven for bringing this to my attention. (GW)

Namibia: Country to Set Up Floating Nuke Activators

By Brigitte Weidich
The Namibian (Windhoek)
April 5, 2007

NEW and untested Russian nuclear technology - generating atomic energy on ships anchored offshore - is to be introduced along the Namibian coast.

During his visit to Namibia last month, Russian Prime Minister Mikhail Fradkov and his delegation made proposals to Government in order to address "the threat of an energy shortage in Namibia within the next five years".

Details of what the proposals entail are set out in the latest Cabinet briefing paper, which was released in Windhoek yesterday.

They include the "supply of a floating nuclear energy production ship, run by the Russians and to be connected to the national power grid for distribution to NamPower and its customers".

"The second proposal is the construction of a medium-sized nuclear power plant," the briefing paper said, without providing further details.

According to international news reports, the use of ships as atomic reactors for electricity supply entails cable connections from such ships to the shore, which are then connected to the national power grid - a very risky prospect.

Only a few months ago the Russian government approved the construction of the first of this kind of floating power plant in that country.

A shipyard in the far north of Russia that usually turns out nuclear submarines will begin construction work this year.

Rosenergoatom, Russia's nuclear power agency, said it intends to build up to six such floating nuclear power stations and that the first one will only be ready in 2010.

These plants will supply heat and electricity to far-flung corners of Russia's Far East and Far North, where it is difficult and expensive to ship coal and oil.

Russia wants to sell the controversial mobile power units to other countries such as China, India and Asian countries and now Namibia.

The power stations have a service life of 40 years, require a crew of 69 people, and generate enough heat and electricity to power a medium-sized town.

The cost of one such atomic ship is estimated at N$2,6 billion.

The Russian Federal Atomic Energy Agency (Rosatom) also wants to lease these new and untested power plants to Southeast Asian countries.

The appropriate licence was issued by the Russian Federal Service for Nuclear and Radiation Safety (Gosatomnadzor) in December 2004 already.

Thailand and Indonesia have demonstrated their interest in these plants.

Negotiations about financing such project are underway with China.

According to the New Zealand Herald, the floating nuclear power stations can be "dead anchored" in a quiet bay or towed to other destinations.

The first model will be moored in the White Sea off the town of Severodvinsk in Russia's northern Archangel region.

Sergey Obozov, a senior official at Rosenergoatom, boasted that they would be "as reliable as a Kalashnikov [AK 47] assault rifle, which are a benchmark of safety".

Sergey Kiriyenko, the head of the agency, was also confident.

"There will be no floating Chernobyl," Kiriyenako was quoted by the New Zealand Herald.

He was referring to the Soviet-era nuclear disaster at Chernobyl in the Ukraine in 1986.

Environmentalists have warned that the concept is risky and that the floating nuclear power stations, which could also be used to desalinate seawater, could sink in stormy weather.

They have also argued that such ships would make a prime target for international terrorists.

According to a recent report from the Norwegian-based Bellona Foundation, the floating atomic power stations are "a threat to the world's oceans".

According to yesterday's Cabinet briefing paper, the Russian Federation has also expressed interest in mining and the processing of minerals in Namibia, especially uranium and diamonds.

Other areas discussed were agriculture, fishing, the modernisation of the Namibia Defence Force's weaponry and "cooperation in the fields of communication and construction."


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